Giving Thanks for Cranberries

As a kid, one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving was Ocean Spray's Jellied Cranberry Sauce. I liked the once-a-year treat for its bright red color, the sweet/tart taste, and the way a slice of it would jiggle next to my turkey.

As an adult, I still like the stuff, even though I wish that high-fructose corn syrup didn't appear near the top of ingredient list.

But considering that the jellied sauce slides out in the exact shape of its can, metal ridges and all, it's sort of surprising to realize that the humble cranberry is loaded with health properties. It's like discovering that SpaghettiO's or Lucky Charms cereal were actually really good for you.

The case for cranberries

Recent studies show that cranberries are something of a superfood. According to an Associated Press article, cranberries are bursting with nutritional and disease-fighting potential. It cites a number of health benefits, including the high level of antioxidants that protect our cells from free radicals.

The National Institute of Health has started to evaluate the impact that cranberries have on a variety of ailments, including heart disease, urinary tract infections, yeast infections, cancer, ulcers, gum disease, and other conditions. There is also speculation that cranberries can help prevent cancer, stroke and viral infections. The Cranberry Institute (yes, there is such a place) tracks research results.

The health benefits are probably one reason that cranberries — which used to be associated mainly with Thanksgiving — are turning up in gourmet sauces, ice cream, even seasonal beers. They are increasingly used in soaps, hand lotions, and cosmetics. And let's not forget the Cosmopolitan, the cocktail that has given cranberries a certain sophistication.

So along with all the other things that I'm grateful for this Thanksgiving, I'll happily add cranberries to the list.

Granted, Ocean Spray's jellied slices might not be the healthiest way to enjoy cranberries. But it's one of the few things I can think of that strikes a balance between super-food and junk food. That said, you may want to condsider opting for fresh cranberries instead. All the benefits — none of the additives. Use them for a traditional cranberry sauce, or try them in this yummy recipe for Cranberry-Pumpkin Bread.

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